Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Livable streets connect to transit

Yesterday, I got educated when I expected to give some education.

The Missouri Public Transit Association is the statewide group for transit operators. They meet annually at a conference center. This year they were generous enough to let me organize and facilitate a conference panel about how transit needs livable streets. The panel was me, the PedNet Coalition's Sam Robinson, Citizens for Modern Transit's Seth Teel and Larry Magill.

You'll notice that Larry doesn't have an association. He told me when I introduced him that we could be there as the Chair of the Camden County Senior Tax Board. That doesn't really say who he is though.

Larry is a 60-something crusader on wheels. He wowed me and the others in the room with tales of this ongoing efforts to make his adopted Ozark hometown more accessible for seniors and those in wheelchairs. Larry uses a wheelchair as a result of mobility issues related to a childhood case of polio. He talked about how transit has come a long way from his days having to be lifted onto and off of his bus. This was when he went to the Crippled School in Kansas City. That's what it was called.

Larry reminded us that years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law there is still much to be done to make public and retail spaces universally accessible. We saw pictures of Larry navigating various doors, ramps, curbs and transit vehicles within the Lake of the Ozarks region. I must say: when the information comes at you from someone who is impacted most by livable streets it hits home. Without a sidewalk or a curb Larry can't get into that building.

As livable streets advocates we need to get better at telling our stories. We need to talk to our city councils and be honest about why we need better sidewalks, bicycle facilities and access for all. These elected folks are the ones who officially decide when and where and how a street gets build. They have the power to make local streets more livable. Stories from the likes of Larry Magill and from the rest of us can have significant and sometimes rapid impact on how walkable, bikable and livable our streets are.

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